Over the last few years, the role of remembering has been downgraded in education in favour of consulting Google, our phone contacts list or personal leaning networks accessed via social media.
While I don’t condone the practice of requiring students to regurgitate facts for the sole purpose of passing examinations, the act of remembering is important to humans in a number of ways.
There are jobs that require a good deal of memory. Imagine a neurosurgeon pausing surgery to locate a patient’s spinal cord using Wikipedia. Or a bus driver consulting Google maps mid-route. Or a paramedic seeking instructions on resuscitation. And our ability to remember who we are and the names of our loved ones is central to our sense of identity.
There is evidence to suggest that an excellent memory is linked to a larger hippocampus, an area of the brain that governs remembering. One study showed that London cab drivers, who have to remember 25,000 streets in a 10 kilometre radius have larger than normal hippocampi. The research proved that brain training can enlarge the hippocampus.
These days, there’s very little literal need to exercise. We have cars, remote controls and smart phones. But we know that exercise is good for our health and wellbeing. We no longer literally need to remember the phone numbers of our friends or even our passwords, but perhaps the act of remembering is as good for our brain as exercise is for our body. The study referred to above demonstrates that remembering can enhance our brain’s plasticity.
There are certainly numerous excellent creative ways to learn in the 21st century. It’s the focus on, and the way we retain knowledge that I think needs revisiting. After all, who would have thought that the lowest of lower order thinking skills could have such a positive impact on brains?